Cycling: Pursuit team fall to Aussies on GB's mixed day in Minsk
Wednesday 20 February 2013
British Cycling has become accustomed to gold at major events but there was a distinctly silver and bronze hue to the first day of action at the Track Cycling World Championships here in the Belarusian capital.
The team pursuit line-up that won the Olympic title in London last summer has had something of a facelift, with Andy Tennant, who agonisingly missed the cut for the Games at the final hour, and Sam Harrison slotting in.
But despite the change of quartet, Britain's pursuiters had become accustomed to edging the Australians when the Ashes battle of the track most mattered.
The two nations have so often been divided by fractions of a second in the past but the four-second deficit to the Aussies on the line showed the current gulf in class between the two teams.
The extent of Australia's win was all the more impressive considering they rode the final six laps with just three men when Glenn O'Shea peeled off the back.
The coaches will not be unduly concerned by silver in what is something of a transition season in the wake of London 2012 particularly as, until recently, Ed Clancy, the most experienced and effectively leader of the British contingent, had temporarily turned his attention to the team sprint.As the clock and the laps ticked on at the Minsk Arena, the Brits looked more and more ragged while the Australians were increasingly smooth and fluent, sensing that victory was on the cards.
Afterwards Clancy said: "It's hard to lose to the Aussies but we'd rather win the Olympics and the Worlds last year and finish second here. It's disappointing but if we don't look at it black and white then there's a lot of positives."
Despite the lack of gold, there was a notable sense of good cheer about the British camp as two of six World Championship debutants took to the track. Vicky Williamson was the first in the women's team sprint. A former athlete, who only turned to cycling at the age of 15 at the behest of her athletics coach, she was only brought in two weeks ago for Jess Varnish, who was forced to pull out with a back injury.
In the lead-out role, Williamson, who came on to British Cycling's radar through their talent-scouting scheme called Girls4Gold, lacked the explosive power of Becky James, who clocked the fastest lap of the entire field of 14.134 seconds.
The pair were surprised to qualify for the bronze medal ride-off against the Australian duo of Kaarle McCulloch and Stephanie Morton, using an innovative ploy which sprint coach Iain Dyer admitted they had copied from an ex-Lithuanian pairing in the event but only tried for the first time in their final UK training session.
In both qualifying and the ride for a medal, James pulled up the wooden banking behind lead-out rider Williamson, enabling James to give herself sufficient speed and momentum for the sprint to the line.
James, whose boyfriend is the Wales wing George North, described herself as "gobsmacked" with the result. "It was a shock to both of us," she said. "It just worked out today."
The medal was particularly sweet for James, who has suffered a series of setbacks, including appendicitis in her bid to achieve her obvious potential. She added: "Last year was the hardest year for me. Just to come away with a medal on the first day... everything is a bonus from now on."
James will compete in the 500m time trial as well as the individual sprint and keirin, and Dyer described her as "in the form of her life" and a potential star of the Championships.
Kiam Emadi came agonisingly close to picking up a medal in his first ever event at world-championship level in the men's kilometre time trial, clocking the second quickest time of his nascent career, the previous best coming at altitude in Colombia.
The 20-year-old will be able to make amends today in the men's sprint in which he takes the place vacated by Sir Chris Hoy from the London 2012 line-up as man three.
However, Emadi, tipped as the new British star of track cycling, distanced himself with comparisons with the six-time Olympic champion. "I appreciate comparisons with Chris Hoy but there is a long way to go," he said. "He is a role model and I'll see what I can do – but give me time."
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